Moral Dilema

November 6, 2011

What’s this then? Another great French film? This is beginning to be a bit of a theme, a theme which I may have to investigate at some point but for now just know that this is a great film (Don’t want to take my word for it? Take a listen to Mr Kermode’s opinion then.)

O.K. – now you’re back with me and there’s obviously no need for me to review the film or tell you what it’s about what am I going to talk about in this post. Well setting aside the obvious point that the whole film is a bit of a moral dilemma (if the law makes a mistake are you entitled to use illegal means to correct the mistake?) there is an even greater conflict towards the end of the film. (SPOILER ALERT) Our hero needs cash, and he needs it quickly. He resolves this by robbing (and killing) a drug dealer, thus committing the very crime his wife is wrongly in prison for. Yet we still support him in his endeavour and still want him to succeed. So why is it that we are prepared to accept illegal behaviour by the hero of a film that we would use as proof of evilness in the villain?


Totally coincidentally this has cropped up in A2 Media Studies today as part of our exploration of post-modernism. In the good old days, when the BBC strode the world as a colossus and all that was needed to succeed was a stiff upper lip then everything was simple. Most media texts used the idea of binary opposition, simple ideas of good and evil, where being good/moral would bring the rewards it deserved, even if that reward was only the knowledge of having ‘done the right thing’. In these more (post)modern times we seem to prefer a little more moral ambiguity in our heroes and villains….

Jimmy McNulty and D’Angelo Barksdale – Subverting Conventional Binary Oppositions? In some conventional crime/cop dramas the distinction between cop and drug dealer is morally clear though the use of simple binaries: cop as hero; drug dealer as villain. However, the representations of the drugs dealers and the police are not clear cut in The Wire and often offer scope for comparison. For example, McNulty is represented as a traditional cop who values old- fashioned detective work. He is a renegade and an anti-authoritarian, a heavy drinker and a womaniser who has failed in his romantic relationships. He is perhaps presented in this way initially to allow audiences to identify with a more conventional stereotype, however he is also used as a way to challenge the binary notion of who is ‘good’ and who is ‘bad’, as his character is also mirrored in D’Angelo Barksdale a drug dealer.

This is an excerpt from The Wire from Curriculum Press which offers some interesting views on the programme which are highly relevant to this discussion.

And if you want to go even deeper into this stonkingly good TV series then take a look at this (quite academic) piece, The wire and the world: narrative and metanarrative.

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